Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When Art Leads To Discussions of Truth, Even When We Hate It

Is there room in the creative arts world for a controversial subject to be featured?  Should theater, music or books give us a platform for hate?  Is art obligated to only feature what is the accepted truth?

These issues and others have been raised in light of a new opera at the Met in New York City’s Lincoln Center, The Death of Klinghoffer.  Some critics say the show glamorizes Palestinian terrorists and depicts Israeli Jews as greedy.  Others say the play attempts to rewrite historical events.

I haven’t seen it and don’t plan to (I hate the opera no matter the story), but I do know the issue is a hot one, putting intellectual expression and artistic curiosity against history and sensitive emotions.  But that’s what any art form should strive to do.

I support the opera’s decision to put the show on, but I also support protesters who want to seize control of the dialogue spurred by the show.  In the end, the truth or higher value should win out.  Everyone’s rights must be heard –

Consumers have a choice to buy a ticket and the right to not attend. Theaters and artists have a right to express their views and give us alternate viewpoints. Protesters have the right to encourage others to boycott the show and to speak out against perceived injustices.

But with these rights, come responsibilities and obligations.

Consumers who keep an open mind and see the show should then speak up on what they saw and how it made them feel. Theaters and artists should make every attempt to be fair, accurate, reasonable, and sensitive to the issues and impacted individuals. Protesters should only use legal, peaceful means to seek to get others to avoid the show.  They must also look not just to put down the show, but to explain, educate, and enlighten why they believe show has errors, wrong conclusions or insensitive depictions.

There’s no other way to do this.  We can’t censor the arts.  The best way to correct a wrong is to expose it and dialogue about it.

We should always look to find out what is true or not.  We should periodically re-evaluate our values.  We should also always be open to seeing how we can understand the other side.  The truth is, whether you support Jews or love America or hate ISIS like Ebola, we don’t fully understand those we label terrorists.  It doesn’t add up, so we simplify things and just make blanket statements like “All Muslims want us dead” or “All Arabs hate Jews.”  But such statements of convenience won’t solve our problems, won’t stop the violence, and won’t help us arbitrate the issues that separate us.

Could this show give merit or currency to another viewpoint?  If it does, maybe there’s actually something to it.   If it fails to move us, then it’s served the purpose to reaffirm what we already know or believe.  In either case, we all win.  We only lose when we shut out the voices, ideas, or opinions of others and dismiss them summarily.  We should welcome – not fear – debate. 

What we want to avoid are two things:
1.      Insulting a group and reawakening past feelings of hatred.
2.      For the art or subsequent debate to distort things to the point misinformation and misinterpretation circulate as fact.

Truth should always win out.  The facts must lead us to their inevitable conclusion.  Art can play an instrumental role in helping to initiate a public discourse.  Only lies and manipulation can spread or prosper if we let them.  Ignorance, apathy, or prejudice will die only where we are all discussing the same issue simultaneously.

Should we have a book or play that provides for the humanizing of things or people we may find atrocious?  Yes.  A novel that makes a child rapist seem loving or a song praising a serial killer or a movie claiming Christ was gay or a television show supporting racist jokes are all valuable in helping us create a public debate of issues that should get settled by the facts.  Fiction and fantasy are the tools we need to fortify the reality we determine to live in.

Plays. Operas. Concerts. Books. Movies. Dances. Paintings. All of art – in its many forms – should provoke, disrupt, question, and make us think, challenging our values, actions, and morality.  Art is not a court of law – it advocates for the discussion of ideas.  It is a piece of a much larger puzzle.

I lobby for these operas to exist – and I lobby for people to either see it and dismiss it – based on knowledge and experience or to not see it and play a role in the dialogue.  In fact, we need for all of this to happen, to balance the ecosystem of ideas and history.

In the end, the arts should challenge us and inspire us and get us talking.  In the end, we need to call out hate, evil, fear, and ignorance, and to educate the newest generation about the past so it doesn’t repeat it.

Talking about something, even if painful, is what we need.  Avoiding those things only quietly and passively invites ignorance and hate to flourish.  Give all ideas the light of day, and with scrutiny, the arts will help us see the truth.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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